For this blog hop, Yolanda Renee and Denise Covey of the WEP website settled on the theme of gardens. It is such an all-inclusive theme, it could inspire hundreds of different interpretations, both fiction and non-fiction. My entry for this blog hop will be non-fiction – a true story about my mother. It’s not really about a garden, but it’s about flowers and a park, and flowers in a park is almost a garden, isn’t it? Same associations anyway.
On June 29, 2016, my mother Valentina turned 83. When she was 65, my father died, unexpectedly, in his sleep, with a book in his hands. They had a good marriage, and my mom was devastated. She didn’t know how to live alone, didn’t know how to care only for herself.
Both her daughters had their own families by then. My younger sister with her husband and children lived in the same country as mom, Israel, but in a different city. My kids and I already lived in Canada, in Vancouver, half a world away.
Mom felt alone and abandoned. To help her fight her grief and depression, one of her friends took her to a community center, to a class that painted fabric napkins. Before that day, mom had never been into arts, never painted anything in her life, never picked up a brush. She had been a computer professional before her retirement but she took to painting like a natural and she enjoyed it. She immersed herself in her new hobby, began reading books on the subject and studying new techniques.
Soon, simple napkins stopped satisfying her. She needed more sophisticated projects. She left the group but continued painting. In the years since, she has created a universe of flowery compositions, the bright and whimsical acrylics on fabric.
Most of her paintings are stylized flowers: a shy water lily surrounded by reeds, proud daffodils with their golden hearts, crimson asters peeking out of their tangle of greenery. She doesn’t concern herself with photographic truth. Her pansies and lilacs, chamomile and clematis come in all sizes, colors, and shapes, even those not encountered in nature. Especially those. She had created her own fantastic garden in acrylic: Valentina’s garden.
My apartment is full of my mom’s paintings. I have a couple dozen of them and I rotate them occasionally. They enliven every room, jazz up every wall, and make my mundane co-op flat worthy of a smile. I seem to live in a garden of my mother’s imagination.
She has given away numerous paintings as gifts to friends and relatives, but after a while, like every artist, she started craving a wider audience. She participated in a couple amateur art shows in Israel, but no professional gallery would accept her paintings for sale.
A few years later, during one of her annual visits to Vancouver, she hit upon the idea to sell her paintings in our biggest city park, alongside the other local artists. The artists’ circle was a Vancouver tradition by then. Every year, the artists set up their wares in a small clearing of the park, surrounded on all sides by the wondrous flower displays, different in different seasons. My mom visited in the summer, so begonias bloomed like crazy, and roses added a touch of elegance to the whole tableau.
I worried about the legalities and tried to dissuade her, but she wouldn’t deviate from her chosen course, even when a problem arose: only Canadian citizens could buy a license to sell their art in Vancouver. Mom found an original solution. That summer, my son was still in high school, at loose ends during his vacation. He wasn’t an artist, never even attempted to draw, but he was a citizen. Mom conscripted him into her scheme and promised him a percentage of her proceeds. She has always been good at persuasion. He agreed and registered the license to his name, while she paid for it. Together, they carted her paintings to the park every weekend.
They didn’t sell anything. Not many artists did, although every visitor to the park wandered by and admired the free art exhibition. Many complimented my mom’s incredible flowers.
In the absence of paying customers, the artists also visited each other and commented on each other’s art. As the license bore my son’s name, the compliments and constructive, professional criticism were all directed his way. His grandmother was just ‘helping along’ and listening, absorbing the critiques like a sponge. My son, the pour boy, couldn’t help but cringe in shame. Although his English is perfect, he couldn’t understand half of what the artists were saying. Their painterly advices, stuffed with trade talk, baffled him, but he manfully kept on the charade for his grandmother’s benefit.
Her inability to sell grated on my mother. For a practical woman she is, having a closetful of unrequited art rankled. In her search for a market, she later switched to hand-painting silk scarves, and suddenly discovered a niche she could fill. The same colorful flowers that graced her paintings migrated to her scarves and shawls, as beautiful and elusive as the rainbow. Many women in Israel wear her fanciful hand-painted scarves now.
I have a few of her scarves myself, and every time I pick up one to go out, its flowing arabesques and vivid petals envelop my neck. And I think of my mother. She still paints new scarves. And sells them too.
Word count: 850; FCA (Full Critique Acceptable)
After I wrote this little essay I thought: what a grand idea for a fiction story. And I wrote one too. Only that story is almost 4,000 words and science fiction. It happened on a space station. If anyone is interested, here it is.
Note: Sorry for the quality of the photos. I just photographed what is hanging on my walls.